WESTLOCK – The Westlock Senior Warriors will look to build on their impressive run in last season’s North Central Hockey League playoffs, a streak that ended against the eventual ‘AA’ provincial champions, the Lacombe Generals.
Although at first glance the club’s 2021/2022 regular-season record of 5-8-0-1 isn’t overly impressive, it’s what they did down the second half of the year that has supporters anticipating the upcoming campaign — the Warriors started last season with three, one-goal losses to open with a record 0-4-0-1 and didn’t earn their first victory until Dec. 4, a 5-4 road win over the Generals.
But following that win the club heated up and in the opening round of the playoffs, the Warriors dominated the third-ranked Morinville Kings (9-4-0-1), sweeping them aside in three-straight games and outscoring them 19-11.
In the semifinal versus the top-ranked Generals, who went 11-1-0-2 in the regular season, the Warriors had a 5-1 second-period lead in Game 1, before falling 6-5 in overtime. In Game 2 the Warriors fell 2-0 to the Generals, before grinding out a 3-2 victory in Game 3 to keep the series alive. And although they had their chances at home in Game 4, the Warriors couldn’t find the back of the net and lost 4-0.
Captain Mike Ivey said they know they can play with the best clubs in the 10-team NCHL, it’s just a matter of executing — the Generals went on to lose the NCHL final to the Camrose Crunch in five games but did claim the Senior ‘AA’ Provincial Championship with a 3-2 OT win over the Fort Saskatchewan Chiefs.
“We’re trying to build on what we did last year, especially versus the eventual provincial champs. That series could have went a completely different way if we wouldn’t have blown Game 1, but we’re not going to dwell on the past,” said Ivey, adding the club has already had one skate in advance of the campaign.
“We’re excited about this year, and it sounds like everyone is coming back. It’s a good group of guys and there’s a lot of positivity.”
The Warriors open their season with a home-and-home exhibition series versus the Devon Barons — Game 1 goes Friday, Sept. 23, at the Rotary Spirit Centre, with puck drop slated for 8:30 p.m.
The club’s regular season then kicks off Oct. 1 when the Generals come to town for a 7 p.m. tilt at the RSC. Following they’ll hit the road for back-to-back weekends against Fort Saskatchewan and Bonnyville, then host the Kings Oct. 29 at 8:30 p.m.
“We really need to get off to a better start for sure. Although we were happy with how we were playing to start last year, we were losing tight ones that we needed to be able to find a way to win,” said Ivey. “For sure it’s important to be clicking heading into the playoffs, but we want to come out and get some wins early on so we’re not panicking about playoffs spots at the end of the year.”
The RSC was packed throughout the playoffs and Ivey said the club is grateful for the continued support of the community. He also said they plan on adding some fun touches for the fans throughout the year and have U9 skaters playing a half-ice game at their Oct. 1 home opener.
“The honest truth is that people enjoy watching a team that is playing well on the ice and winning and that’s something we want to give them,” he said. “We play a physical brand of exciting hockey when we come together.”